There are multiple ways to define a leader and be a leader, all of which are valid in their own spheres. Two clear and different leadership styles are at play in this year’s SA presidential election. Griffin Thomas promises to lead from the front, representing Rice and the student body that will elect him, while Joan Liu promises to lead from behind, following the lead of the students and attitudes on campus.
Rice is a university with a diversity of opinion, a plethora of ideas and, to be frank, a history of apathetic student leadership. The role of the Student Association president has been in flux, and I’m sure everyone on campus knows this. Current President Jazz Silva’s leadership style has differed from most presidents of the past decade. She has taken agendas and given this university a face in student leadership, both on campus and around the country. This style of leadership, even if polarizing at times, gets things done and provides meaningful action for this university.
As a leader, you have to lead. You have to make hard decisions. You can’t base a campaign just off the past, especially when complacency is a tenant of that past and we have seen what the present administration of decisiveness can accomplish. The candidates’ leadership styles are never distinguishing more clearly than in Liu’s closing sentence of her op-ed in the Thresher, “I hope you trust me with your vote to take the lead in starting these conversations.” Leadership should involve input, an electorate and enacting student desires, but it is so much more. It is more than a conversation. The SA president should lead conversations, but you should vote for them because they have a vision as to where to direct the conversation. You should vote on that vision, not the ability to have conversations, especially when a plethora of conversations, while trying to please the entire student body, just leads to a path muddled in differences of beliefs and opinion. That is leading from behind the voice of others, that is leading from placation, to the point that little gets done.
Leading from behind can work in small groups, but for a university it leads to inefficiency. A lack of opinion in a leader, or rather agreement on the most agreeable issues, leads to accomplishments of generalities, if any. Judging from the debate, Liu seems like a candidate who will certainly do a good job as president, handling the bureaucratic institutions of the SA and other tasks of that nature, as did Thomas. There is more to that in a presidency, however, and the differences in the abilities of the candidates are clear when you read and compare their platforms. Liu wants to harken back to the past, but the past of Rice’s leadership was often apathetic and ineffective. Sometimes it is better to look forward while keeping mind of the past, and what the past got wrong.
Liu might very well be the candidate for you. She is the candidate who leads from a point of neutrality and consensus, and therefore is the safe candidate. She will keep the SA intact while keeping Rice, albeit more involved with Houston, neutral on issues. Things get muddled and lost, if not neutralized, when you try to converse and agree with every voice on this campus of so many opinions.
Thomas is the candidate for me because he isn’t the safe choice. He is the choice who will go out and get things done, whether it is via the politics and programs of Rice itself, or keeping Rice engaged in the politics of the city, state and country. He wants to keep the capable leadership style of the present while building off it in terms of transparency and furthering its action. While Liu strives for endless conversations reminiscent of the past, Thomas states in his platform piece he will “never shy away from a fight” and will be “always willing to aggressively represent student interests — your interests.” I want a champion who fights for students and doesn’t shy away from potentially divisive topics at Rice and beyond. I can’t say whether that is better in the minds of Rice students as a whole, but that is my point: I believe that if Rice wants to move forward, it must lead from the front. Even if that is divisive, it is decisive. That is why I am voting not specifically for a candidate but a style of leadership, one that will take us forward, unabashedly, unashamedly and fully prepared. That is why I am voting for Griffin Thomas as SA president.
David Cirillo, Sid Richardson College ‘18